What is a person in relation to his/her body, the material world, and different conflicts in society? As a scholar, I address this central question through studying Chinese literature and culture, especially literary representations of personhood, prints and performances of drama, the gender dimension of writing, and writing as social and political practices. My research projects involve various types of materials––dramas, novels, poetry, historical documents, and visual representations. Throughout my research, I maintain a threefold approach to literature: identifying meaningful textual details, examining the material and social production of literary works, and interpreting literature through critical questions informed by both Chinese and Western traditions.
- Staging Personhood: Costuming in Early Qing Drama (Columbia University Press, 2020)
The book studies the political and cultural significance of clothing and costuming in early Qing drama (texts, performances, and visual representations) against the Ming-Qing transition and Manchu government’s hair and dress regulations. The book argues that the Ming-Qing transition turned theatrical costuming into a unique way to reassemble the disrupted body, clothes, and individual identities during the dynastic transition. This book introduces an interdisciplinary method to integrate texts, performances, history, and critical questions in the study of Chinese drama.
Support and Honors:
Brooks McNamara Publishing Subvention, American Society for Theatre Research, 2019
James P. Geiss and Margaret Y. Hsu Foundation Publication Subvention Award, 2019
Association of Asian Studies First Book Subvention (2018)
Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS Postdoc Fellowship in China Studies (2017-18);
- Cleansing Grievances: Dead Bodies in Forensic Literature of Early Modern China (in progress)
Dead bodies always reveal significant aspects of a society and its culture. In addition to formulating a systemic way of understanding the living body, traditional China developed comprehensive forensic practices to examine dead bodies. Those practices together with their literary representations reflect the understanding of individuals as biological, social, and legal subjects in late imperial China. The project analyzes court-case literature and related historical documents in 17th–19th-century China. Through an examination of court-case novels and dramas, forensic and legal documents, and visual records, the project delineates the modes of interaction between literary writing and forensic practices in late imperial China.
Support and Honors:
Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation Research Grant (2018-2022)
Dean’s Faculty Fellowship, Vanderbilt University (2019-2020)
- “The Gender of Knowledge in Forensic Drama of Late Imperial China,” NAN Nü 2021 (forthcoming).
In late imperial China practitioners of forensic investigation in legal cases were predominantly male. While crime literature frequently features female characters, the question of how this literature represents the gender dimension of forensic knowledge remains unanswered. This paper aims to answer this question with an examination of a number of late imperial era theatrical works that depict how forensic knowledge differed across the male and female divide. It argues court-case literature increasingly valorized male forensic knowledge and its relevance to the state legal system. At the same time, these theatrical pieces signify female forensic knowledge following two literary traditions, namely, the commendation of exemplary women and the condemnation of “wanton women.”
- “The Prefatory Self: Images of the Author in Traditional Chinese Drama,” T’oung Pao 2021.
This paper considers representations of Chinese opera authors in the prefatory space of their theatrical works. Instead of treating authorship as a type of ownership, this paper studies the multifaceted nature of authorial images by examining the depiction of the authors’ hairstyles and clothing alongside other content in the front matter of those plays. Situating the phenomenon within the histories of Chinese drama, clothing, and book culture, this paper argues that authors increasingly appeared in late imperial Chinese drama in their social roles––from the prefatory space to the drama script proper.
- “Absent Presence: Costuming and Identity in Qing Drama A Ten-thousand Li Reunion,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 2019.
The paper explores the relation between costuming and identity in Qing drama through the case of Wanli yuan 萬里圓 (A Ten-thousand Li Reunion), a play about a Chinese family separated and then reunited through the dynastic transition. The paper examines textual fragments, visual representations, and performance records to demonstrate how the drama dresses its characters as members of a Chinese family and subjects of changing states. The study shows that theatrical costuming in Qing drama provided a productive way of reshaping body, clothing, and individual identities that were constantly in tension with historical changes.
- “Dressing Self and Others in the Poetry of Kong Shangren,” CLEAR, 2019.
This paper studies the representation of hairstyle and clothing in Kong Shangren’s poetry. It argues that through writing about different modes of dressing in the Manchu and Han styles, Kong probed the boundaries between the poetic and social worlds to represent different dimensions of being a man of letters in early Qing China. This paper provides a material approach to revisit the relationship between authors, literature, and society in a specific historical context.
- “The Inconvenient Imperial Visit: Writing Clothing and Ethnicity in 1684 Qufu”, Late Imperial China, 2016. (2017 SEC/AAS Article Prize)
The Manchu-style costumes employed at Confucius ritual performances in early Qing China signified an inherent paradox: whereas Confucian rituals sinicized the Manchus, Manchu costumes colonized Confucian rituals. This paper examines the Kong family’s writings about clothing and body on display during the Kangxi emperor’s visit to Qufu in 1684. It shows that literati scholars of the Kong family integrated Manchu clothing into Confucian ritual through their strategic writing and interpretation. On a larger scale, the paper suggests that the sartorial transition embodies the hybrid process of sinicization and Manchuization which characterizes early Qing history.